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Rape lawsuit against Paul Haggis prompts more accusers to step forward

Rape lawsuit against Paul Haggis prompts more accusers to step forward
Oscar-winning director and screenwriter Paul Haggis in 2014. Four women have accused the Canadian filmmaker of sexual misconduct, two of them accusing him of rape. (Genaro Molina / Los Angeles Times)

Three additional women have come forward with allegations of sexual misconduct against Oscar-winning director and screenwriter Paul Haggis, in support of a woman who sued him last month alleging that she was raped.

The new claims were detailed in an amended complaint filed Friday in New York by publicist Haleigh Breest. She has alleged that Haggis, 64, a Canadian filmmaker best known for "Crash" and "Million Dollar Baby," raped her in his SoHo apartment after a movie premiere in 2013.

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Haggis preemptively sued Breest hours before her Dec. 15 lawsuit was filed, alleging that the woman had attempted to extort $9 million from him with a false claim.

After the suits were filed, three additional women contacted Breest's attorneys with allegations against Haggis. One of the new accusers also said Haggis raped her. None of the women were named in the complaint.

On Friday, Haggis' attorney denied the latest claims "in whole," and said in a statement that the additional allegations "appear to be spearheaded" by Breest's attorneys as a tactic to obtain a settlement.

"In a society where one of a person's fundamental rights is the ability to confront an accuser, that right has now been eviscerated when it comes to anyone being charged in the press with any sort of sexual misconduct," said attorney Christine Lepera.

One of the additional accusers, identified as Jane Doe #1 in the complaint, said she met Haggis in 1996 while working as a publicist for a television program.

She said Haggis forcibly kissed her while in a back office and when she pushed him away, he became "menacing and threatening" and asked if she wanted to continue working in the industry, according to the complaint. He forced her to give him oral sex and pushed her to the floor, then raped her, according to the complaint.

The Associated Press, which first reported the new allegations, corroborated the woman's account with a friend. The friend told the AP that the woman lost weight and appeared to be depressed after the alleged rape. When asked about it, the woman told the friend that Haggis had raped her a few weeks earlier.

Two additional women, identified as Jane Does #2 and #3, said Haggis attempted to rape them in 2008 and 2015, respectively, when they were young women discussing professional opportunities. Jane Doe #3, who met Haggis at a film festival, said she screamed for help, physically fought him off and ran into her building to stop his advances.

In her initial lawsuit , Breest said she was 26 when she met Haggis while working on a movie premiere on the upper west side of Manhattan.

Haggis, who was a guest at the premiere, offered her a ride and then invited her to his apartment for a drink, she alleged. Breest said she asked to go to a public bar instead, but the director insisted and she relented, not wanting to offend him.

Breest said she repeatedly told Haggis no, but the director used "significant force and violence" to tear off her tights and rape her, according to the lawsuit. She said she went to a Planned Parenthood clinic to be tested for sexually transmitted diseases, and in June 2017 began receiving mental health treatment for trauma from the assault.

Haggis, in his lawsuit, said he had maintained what he believed was a "friendly and at times flirtatious" relationship with Breest but denied raping her. He said he was recovering from back surgery at the time of the alleged rape and was unable to lift anything more than a light grocery bag.

He questioned whether the allegations were related to his public comments about Scientology, of which he has been a vocal critic since defecting from the church in 2009. The women denied any connection to the religion, according to the AP report.

Breest's attorney declined to say whether any police reports had been filed. Representatives of the New York Police Department did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

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At the Television Critics Assn. winter tour Friday, actress Hilary Swank, who starred in "Million Dollar Baby," was asked if she was aware of the allegation against Haggis. She said she hadn't heard them, but said she was supportive of women bringing sexual misconduct to light.

"I think that it's wonderful that women are able to be so courageous and come out and speak something that has been so troubling for a very long time," she said. "I applaud their bravery."

Times staff writer Yvonne Villarreal contributed to this report.

For more California news, follow me on Twitter @vicjkim

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